From international streaming sensations to pioneering political narratives, Taiwanese cinema marched on in 2023.
So, what were the Best Taiwanese Movies of 2023?
In an ongoing partnership, the editors of New Bloom and Cinema Escapisthave curated this list of 2023’s top 10 Taiwanese films. Our compilation features both blockbuster and indie movies spanning genres such as romance, thriller, action, comedy, and LGBTQ. We selected these 10 Taiwanese movies based on narrative innovation, production quality, and sociopolitical relevance.
Where possible, we’ve also provided streaming links on platforms like Netflix (region dependent).
Let’s delve into the best Taiwanese films of 2023!
10. Who’ll Stop the Rain
Chinese Title: 青春並不溫柔 | Director: Yi-Hsuan Su | Starring: Lee Ling-wei, Yeh Chen-ting, Roy Chang, Anan Chang | Genre(s): Drama, LGBTQ
Set in 1994 as Taiwan transitioned into democracy, Who’ll Stop the Rain is a thoughtful film that explores themes around creative freedom, love, and finding one’s own identity. The movie centers on a young art student named Chi-wei, who ends up falling in love with the leader of a protest movement at her school at a time when same-sex relationships were not commonly accepted in Taiwan.
Screened at the 2023 Tokyo International Film Festival and nominated for multiple awards at 2023’s Taipei Film Awards, Who’ll Stop the Rain is a cinematographically pleasing movie whose themes have social significance. Topics like creative freedom and same-sex relationships have become integral to Taiwan’s contemporary social identity, and Who’ll Stop the Rain’s choice to explore such issues in 1994 offers a chance to reflect upon to what extent Taiwan has, or hasn’t, progressed as a society in the 30 years since.
9. Miss Shampoo
Chinese Title: 請問，還有哪裡需要加強 | Director: Giddens Ko | Starring: Vivian Sung, Kai Ko, Emerson Tsai | Genre(s): Romance
The latest Giddens Ko project in a highly successful few years for the multi-talented novelist, scriptwriter, and director, Miss Shampoo is one of a number of Taiwanese films in past years to involve gangsters unexpectedly drawn into unconventional romances. Characterized by Ko’s madcap sense of humor and dramatization, Miss Shampoo follows gang leader Tai, who is saved from attackers by rookie hairstylist Fen.
Tai shows his thanks by sending his gangster subordinates to Fen’s salon for haircuts, though his romantic fixation on Fen alienates some of his cohorts. At the same time, Tai’s attackers are still out there, further straining his relationship with his colleagues, who think he should be dealing with threats against him. Miss Shampoo may tread a well-worn path in Taiwanese film, but its breezy sense of humor has proven appealing to audiences.
8. Lost in Perfection
Chinese Title: 惡女 | Director: Sung Hsin-yin | Starring: Ivy Shao Yu-wei, Lin Mei-hsiu, Rhydian Vaughan | Genre(s): Thriller
Lost in Perfection focuses on an ambitious TV anchor whose life initially seems perfect—she’s just gotten a promotion, she’s about to marry a dentist, and she has a great apartment. However, her life starts spinning out of control when she realizes that her father has fallen victim to an infamous romance scammer.
Given the film’s rather mature and slick tone, it’s interesting to consider that Lost in Perfection’s director Sung Hsin-yin first came onto Taiwan’s cinematic scene with On Happiness Road, a nostalgic and superb animation that reflects on Taiwan’s modern history through the eyes of a woman looking back on her childhood.
Tonal differences aside though, these two movies have a common thread in containing a female perspective. In fact, Lost in Perfection’s Mandarin name literally “Evil Woman” — and the film’s driving force is in exploring which of its female leads is really “evil” and why.
7. She’s Talking in Island
Chinese Title: 她說 | Director: Wang Ming-hsia | Starring: Wu I-ting, Fan Chen-fe | Genre(s): Drama
A highly experimental film, She’s Talking in Island follows two women–one a Millennial who participated in the 2014 Sunflower Movement, and another a member of Gen Z–through the course of a day. Consisting primarily of the highly philosophical conversation between the two women, this proves a wide-ranging conversation on aesthetics, politics, and life.
She’s Talking in Island may not be for everyone, as its dense dialogue and relative lack of action may prove alienating. Nevertheless, for those that engage with the film, She’s Talking in Island proves an intriguing reflection on the Sunflower generation’s engagements with the next generation of Taiwanese young people, ten years on from a movement that shaped the lives of an entire generation of Taiwanese young people.
Chinese Title: 愛是一把槍 | Director: Lee Hong-chi | Starring: Lee Hong-chi, Patricia Lin | Genre(s): Drama
Taiwanese actor Lee Hong-chi is perhaps best known to English-language audiences for his leading role in Tigertail, but even before that he had roles in prominent art films across both Taiwan and China (ex. Thanatos, Drunk, Long Day’s Journey into Night). In 2023, Lee made his directorial debut with Love Is a Gun, a moody drama that draws from his involvement in atmospheric indie films.
Love Is a Gun centers on a man named “Sweet Potato” (played by Lee himself), who recently got released from prison and is trying to break out of the cycles of criminal life. The film makes stunning use of colors to paint an emotional palette, and uses apt camerawork to further accentuate its characters’ mental states. It’s no wonder that Love Is a Gun won the prestigious “Lion of the Future” award at 2023’s Venice International Film Festival; the last Taiwan-based filmmaker to win the honor was Tsai Ming-liang with Stray Dogs.
5. Old Fox
Chinese Title: 老狐狸 | Director: Hsiao Ya-chuan | Starring: Bai Run-yin, Liu Kuan-ting, Akio Chen, Eugenie Liu | Genre(s): Drama, Family
Old Fox ended up being one of the big winners at 2023’s Golden Horse Awards, Taiwan’s equivalent of the Oscars. The film garnered four awards—including Best Director for Hsiao Ya-chuan, who is a protege of noted Taiwan New Wave director Hou Hsiao-hsien.
Set in the 1980s, Old Fox centers on a single father and his son, who wish to buy a house of their own. However, economic circumstances and a heartless landlord get in the way of this dream. The movie is a dark and thoughtful exploration of working-class life; its depiction of a father-son relationship is also quite moving. Even if it’s set in the 80s, the film perhaps remains resonant to many audiences today given Taiwan continues to experience challenges around home affordability and low wages.
4. The Pig, The Snake, and The Pigeon
Chinese Title: 週處除三害 | Director: Wong Ching-pu | Starring: Ethan Juan, Gingle Wang, Chen Yi-wen | Genre(s): Crime
Helmed by Hong Kong director Wong Ching-po, best known for his gangster films, The Pig, The Snake, and The Pigeon’s two-part narrative follows hitman Chen Kui-lin. Chen, played with aplomb by Ethan Ruan, aims to become the number one most-wanted fugitive in Taiwan after finding out that he has terminal cancer.
A stylized and violent gang drama, The Pig, The Snake, and The Pigeon is also one of many Taiwanese movies in recent years that focus on the choices made by terminal patients in their last days–a number of which have been gangster movies. The Pig, The Snake, and The Pigeon has made waves of its distinctive mise-en-scène and strong acting from Ruan.
3. Day Off
Chinese Title: 本日公休 | Director: Fu Tien-yu | Starring: Fu Meng Bo, Shi Ming Shuai, Annie Chen, Beatrice Fang, Lu Hsiao Fen | Genre(s): Drama, Family
Day Off, which won the Yakushi Pearl Award at the Osaka Asian Film Festival for lead actress Lu Hsiao-fen, is a character study of A-Rui, a retiring hairdresser on the verge of retirement. Even as A-Rui’s children have moved on to other fields with varying degrees of success, A-Rui carries on as she has for decades, taking care of her longtime customers.
Even so, A-Rui is getting older, and her children are concerned about her ability to keep going. Day Off follows the interactions between A-Rui and her family, then, exploring the vicissitudes of aging. An emotional watch, Day Off manages to balance a character-driven drama with nostalgia for ways of life in Taiwan on the verge of disappearing.
Chinese Title: 風眼 | Director: Chun-Yang Lin | Starring: Po-Chieh Wang, Jing-Hua Tseng, Hsueh Shih-ling, Chloe Xiang | Genre(s): Drama
Taiwan made international headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic, winning accolades for its COVID-19 response. In particular, Taiwan went for more than a year without needing to undergo a lockdown, and when it finally was impacted by COVID-19, the outbreak was contained relatively quickly.
Eye of the Storm deals with an earlier moment in Taiwanese history viewed as instrumental in Taiwan’s COVID-19 response, the lockdown of the Heping Hospital during SARS. This proves a COVID-tinted reflection on a traumatic moment that contributed to Taiwan’s later COVID-19 successes, then, when patients, doctors, nurses, and other staff were locked down in the Heping Hospital for close to a month during the SARS epidemic. Although melodramatic, Eye of the Storm is a compelling drama, drawing parallels to the present through this glimpse at past history.
Our choice for 2023’s #1 best Taiwanese movie is Marry My Dead Body. This genre-bending film is not only entertaining, but also showcases distinct aspects of Taiwanese culture in a way that global audiences can easily enjoy.
Marry My Dead Body centers on a policeman named Wu Ming-han, who accidentally picks up a red envelope during a drug bust, and ends up in a “ghost marriage” to a deceased gay man named Mao Mao. At first, the homophobic Ming-han tries escaping the marriage. However, Mao Mao’s ghost appears and thwarts his attempts. Apparently, the only way that Ming-han can exit the marriage is by helping Mao Mao fulfill his dying wishes. With no other choice, Ming-han begins to learn more about Mao Mao’s life, and also realizes that having a ghost spouse might actually help with his police work.
Whether it’s fight scenes, detective work, romance, or family drama, Marry My Dead Body has it all. The movie combines an impressive array of genres into its 2 hour runtime, and never feels overly burdened. Synthesizing seemingly disparate ingredients into a cohesive whole is Marry My Dead Body’s strength; it’s also quite impressive how it manages to weave together the traditional practice of ghost marriages with social commentary about LGBTQ acceptance in contemporary Taiwanese society. With a well-structured narrative that throws plot twists just when you need them, Marry My Dead Body will keep you in emotional thrall until its very last frame.
It’s no wonder that Marry My Dead Body became one of the highest-grossing films in Taiwanese history, and shot to Netflix’s global top 10 list upon its debut on the streaming network. The movie is also Taiwan’s submission to 2024’s Academy Award for International Feature.